Analysis | Friday Night Drive

2022 season preview: Scouting the South Suburban Blue

Bremen

2021 record: 5-5

Coach: Dan Stell

Worth noting: Bremen has made each of the last two playoff fields and is hoping to extend that string. Ideally, it would snap a string of the school’s last six playoff appearances without a win. Bremen’s last playoff win came in 2005. To accomplish both of those goals, it will lean heavily on a group of 11 returning starters. A trio of players are expected to pull heavy double duty in OL/DL Eric Perez-Nava, RB/LB Breyahn Townsend and RB/DB Keshawn Lewis-Hunt. Double duty is never the ideal, especially for a Class 6A level team, but a solid group of program newcomers might be able to ease some of the burden. If Bremen can replace some of the vacancies in their lineup, particularly in the trenches, the Braves should be in the mix to punch another ticket to the playoff field.

Hillcrest

2021 record: 5-5

Coach: Kyran Weaver

Worth noting: The Hawks took a bit of a step back from previous seasons with last year’s campaign, which ended in an opening round loss to Triad in the Class 5A playoffs. Hillcrest seems like a prime candidate to bounce back, especially considering it has a bevy of athletes to man the skill positions. RB Ajani Rush should lead that charge, but the question as always for Hillcrest will be whether or not they can rebuild the offense and defensive lines to take advantage of the assets they do have returning. Hillcrest might have some trouble getting momentum going early on with a difficult nonconference schedule (Brother Rice, Montini). If the Hawks survive that stretch, the second half of the season should provide an opportunity for momentum.

Lemont

2021 record: 11-1

Coach: Bret Kooi

Worth noting: Lemont was a Class 6A quarterfinalist last season and has eyes on doing similar damage at the very least this campaign as well. The reason for such optimism is a healthy batch of returners, particularly on offense. The offensive line returns almost completely intact and will protect highly effective quarterback Payton Salomon. Lemont has a number of its receivers returning as well, led by Luke Wallace. Defensively, there are a few more voids to fill, but safety and North Dakota State commit Noah Taylor gives them a tremendous start on rebuilding on that side of the ball. While limited in varsity experience, Kooi likes the way his defensive line is shaping up. Lemont has been a dominant team in the South Suburban for several seasons and there’s little reason to believe that it might be knocked from that perch. But a pair of nonconference games right out of the gate (Libertyville, Nazareth) should give Lemont a chance to see exactly where it is.

Oak Forest

2021 record: 4-5

Coach: Anthony Malopsy

Worth noting: Oak Forest is slowly climbing back from an 0-9 season in 2019, which was a far cry from the standard set by the program as it made 17 consecutive playoff appearances from 2000-17. While Oak Forest scheduled a Chicago Public League team to start the season (Westinghouse), the key will be how it survives the rest of the early portion of its schedule (Sycamore and Lemont in Weeks 2 and 3). Multiple South Suburban coaches cited Oak Forest as a team to keep on their radar.

T.F. North

2021 record: 1-8

Coach: Jason Richardson

Worth noting: T.F. North’s efforts to start a rebuild had a bit of a diversion in early August when former head coach Tristan Stovall was abruptly dismissed because of a conduct violation. Stovall disputes wrong doing, but the program has moved forward with Richardson being tabbed with an interim tag. He’ll be assisted by long-time Hubbard head coach Elton Harris. The Meteors have quite the rebuilding process ahead of them as the program hasn’t qualified for the postseason since 2011 and hasn’t won a playoff game since 2002.

T.F. South

2021 record: 6-4

Coach: Robert Padjen

Worth noting: The top-end talent for the Red Wolves took a bit of a hit with an offseason transfer of standout CJ Miles to Mount Carmel, but the cupboard is far from bare. Senior WR Brandon Woods is an electric talent that gives T.F. South some explosiveness on the outside, while Jacob Foster returns in the backfield to go along with three returnees on the offensive line. Quarterback is still a derby with either junior Dion Hayes or Nathan Lewis getting the nod ultimately. There’s just four defensive players back for the Red Wolves, but there’s at least one player with experience at each level to help shepherd the newcomers into the fold.

Tinley Park

2021 record: 1-8

Coach: Chris Vitt

Worth noting: A fairly young roster was inherited by Vitt, but there’s some experience and promise sprinkled throughout. The most notable void was the one left by two-way starter Evan King (QB/LB). Brooks Davis looks to have the inroad to the quarterback position and he’ll lean heavily on tight end Anthony Czerwiec and wide receiver Zach Hesse. The Titans also return three offensive lineman. Defensively, the wildcard could be talented junior defensive lineman Carlos Hazlewood (6-5, 260).

FIVE PLAYERS TO WATCH

  • Peyton Soloman, QB, Lemont: Lemont had a lot of weapons at its disposal last season, so many that a spectacular junior season sort of got lost in the shuffle as Soloman tossed 25 touchdown passes against just one interception.
  • Ajani Rush, RB/DB, Hillcrest: In a program filled with impact players at the skill positions, Rush might be the breakout performer of the group. With speed to burn, Rush is a contributor on both sides of the ball.
  • Eric Perez-Nava, OL/DL, Bremen: Perez-Nava will provide an anchor for the Braves on both sides of the football.
  • Marcus Woods, WR, T.F. South: The 6-foot-4 speedy target on the outside should provide an extremely viable option for offense for the Red Wolves.
  • Noah Taylor, S, Lemont: A very solid Lemont defense last season lost a lot to graduation, but certainly not everything. A North Dakota State recruit, Taylor doesn’t hesitate to put himself right in the mix.

SCHEDULES

BremenHillcrestLemontOak ForestT.F. NorthT.F. SouthTinley Park
Week 1@ Thornridge; TBA, Aug. 26@ Brother Rice; 7 p.m., Aug. 26vs. Libertyville; 7 p.m., Aug. 26vs. Westinghouse; 7 p.m., Aug. 26vs. Carver; 7 p.m., Aug. 26@ Shepard; 7 p.m., Aug. 26vs. Oak Lawn; 6 p.m., Aug. 26
Week 2@ Joliet Central; 6:30 p.m., Sept. 2@ Montini; 7:30 p.m., Sept. 2@ Nazareth; 7:30 p.m., Sept. 2@ Sycamore; 7 p.m., Sept. 2@ Hope Academy; 7 p.m., Sept. 2@ Lane; 7:15 p.m., Sept. 2@ Aurora Christian; 7 p.m., Sept. 2
Week 3@ Tinley Park; 6 p.m., Sept. 9vs. Shepard; 6 p.m., Sept. 9vs. Oak Forest; 7 p.m., Sept. 9@ Lemont; 7 p.m., Sept. 9@ T.F. South; 7 p.m., Sept. 9vs. T.F. North; 7 p.m., Sept. 9vs. Bremen; 6 p.m., Sept. 9
Week 4vs. Lemont; 6 p.m., Sept. 16vs. T.F. North; 6 p.m., Sept. 16@ Bremen; 6 p.m., Sept. 16vs. T.F. South; 6 p.m., Sept. 16@ Hillcrest; 6 p.m., Sept. 16@ Oak Forest; 6 p.m., Sept. 16vs. Argo; 7 p.m., Sept. 16
Week 5@ T.F. North; 7 p.m., Sept. 23vs. T.F. South; 6 p.m., Sept. 23vs. Tinley Park; 7 p.m., Sept. 23vs. Blue Island Eisenhower; 7 p.m., Sept. 23vs. Bremen; 7 p.m., Sept. 23@ Hillcrest; 6 p.m., Sept. 23@ Lemont; 7 p.m., Sept. 23
Week 6vs. Hillcrest; 6 p.m., Sept. 30@ Bremen; 6 p.m., Sept. 30vs. T.F. North; 7 p.m., Sept. 30@ Tinley Park; 6 p.m., Sept. 30@ Lemont; 7 p.m., Sept. 30vs. Evergreen Park; 7 p.m., Sept. 30vs. Oak Forest; 6 p.m., Sept. 30
Week 7vs. T.F. South; 6 p.m., Oct. 7vs. Tinley Park; 6 p.m., Oct. 7vs. Richards; 7 p.m., Oct. 7@ T.F. North; 7 p.m., Oct. 7vs. Oak Forest; 7 p.m., Oct. 7@ Bremen; 6 p.m., Oct. 7@ Hillcrest; 6 p.m., Oct. 7
Week 8@ Oak Forest; 6 p.m., Oct. 14vs. Lemont; 6 p.m., Oct. 14@ Hillcrest; 6 p.m., Oct. 14vs. Bremen; 6 p.m., Oct. 14vs. Reavis; 7 p.m., Oct. 14vs. Tinley Park; 7 p.m., Oct. 14@ T.F. South; 7 p.m., Oct. 14
Week 9vs. Oak Lawn; 6 p.m., Oct. 21@ Oak Forest; 6 p.m., Oct. 21@ T.F. South; 7 p.m., Oct. 20vs. Hillcrest; 6 p.m., Oct. 20@ Tinley Park; 6 p.m., Oct. 20vs. Lemont; 7 p.m., Oct. 20vs. T.F. North; 6 p.m., Oct. 20

FIVE CAN’T MISS MATCHUPS

Week 2 — Lemont at Nazareth: This has evolved into a pretty exciting nonconference matchup for both teams.

Week 4 — T.F. South at Oak Forest: A great measuring stick game for both programs that see themselves as potential playoff tickets.

Week 7 — Richards at Lemont: A crossover game in the South Suburban between the two programs that have historically done the most postseason damage.

Week 7 — T.F. South at Bremen: This could turn out to be a very pivotal game in both squad’s paths to a potential playoff berth.

Week 8 — Lemont at Hillcrest: This matchup has sort of become the unofficial championship game for the conference and things could align to make that happen again this year.

STEVE SOUCIE’S PREDICTED FINISH

TeamRecord
Lemont9-0
T.F. South6-3
Hillcrest6-3
Oak Forest5-4
Bremen5-4
Tinley Park2-7
T.F. North1-8